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The 20 Best Music Videos of 2020

These videos represent a cross-section of who we are at a period in history that feels unmoored from time and reality.

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Best Music Videos of 2020
Photo: YouTube

Music videos are like little snapshots in time, reflecting the politics, fashions, sexual mores, and latest technologies of a given period. More than any other visual medium, short-form videos can be quickly produced and distributed—at least compared to television and film. So when the Covid-19 pandemic exploded earlier this year, its impact was seen almost immediately in both the form and content of music videos, from HAIM’s remotely produced “I Know Alone” to Charli XCX’s crowd-sourced tribute to her fans, “Forever.” Of course, even the clips made prior to—or which don’t specifically address—the outbreak provide a glimpse into life in 2020: Beyoncé’s self-directed “Already” dovetails with America’s reckoning with the value of black lives and culture, while Rina Sawayama’s “XS” is a bitingly savage, not to mention gut-busting, sendup of society’s collective mainlining of late capitalism. The 20 videos below represent a cross-section of who we are at a period in history that feels unmoored from time and reality. Sal Cinquemani


Beyoncé featuring Shatta Wale and Major Lazer, “Already” (Dir: Beyoncé)

Beyoncé’s self-serious mode may be getting tired, but she strikes an indelible pose throughout “Already,” an exploration—or, rather, affirmation—of black identity. Just one vignette from the singer’s Black Is King visual album, the clip cuts between painterly shots of regal fashions and urban street dancing, presenting a pan-African vision of abundance and celebration. Cinquemani


Phoebe Bridgers, “I Know the End” (Dir: Alissa Torvinen)

The first half of Phoebe Bridgers’s video for “I Know the End” plays like a thriller: At one point, a girl in a nurse’s uniform blocks the singer’s exit, offering her an apple as she watches cautiously from behind a wall. Every interaction is surreal and inexplicable (especially Bridgers picking up the apple after it’s rolled across and floor, taking a bite out of it, and dropping it again), creating a disorienting and alienating reality in which little makes sense. Suddenly, as the song builds to its climactic ending, she sprints into the Los Angeles Coliseum, picks up her guitar, and screams into the microphone. The screen widens and Bridgers’s world opens up, giving us insight into her liberating relationship with music. Eric Mason


Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion, “WAP” (Dir: Colin Tilley)

Colin Tilley’s video for “WAP” is an audacious visual interpretation of Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s controversial ode to their, uh, “wet and gushy.” The clip is about as subtle as the song itself—tigers and snakes abound—but its cartoonishness belies a powerful feminist message: For those who are counting, there are zero men to be found in this sex-drenched Wonderland. Alexa Camp


Charli XCX, “Forever” (Dir: Dan Streit & Charli XCX)

For “Forever,” Charli XCX collected clips from her fans and compiled them into a wistful collage of hundreds of significant moments. Even as a mostly homemade video produced in isolation, the array of memories on display recreates a feeling of connectedness that was sorely in short supply throughout 2020. A simulacrum of a social life, Charli’s crowdsourced patchwork of friends and adventures, kisses and anniversaries, selfies and home videos expands the scope of the song, originally for Charli’s longtime boyfriend, into a tribute to her fans. Mason


Christine and the Queens, “La Vita Nuova” (Dir: Colin Solal Cardo)

Christine and the Queens’s 14-minute “La Vita Nuova” is an emotional masterwork that maps out the breadth of the singer’s vivid imagination. Every awe-inspiring shot and chills-inducing moment is choreographed with precision, and the video’s magic comes not only from its mythological creatures, but from the unbridled passion of Chris’s performance. Whether she’s dancing with an ensemble, feverishly chasing a boom mic, or licking Caroline Polachek’s neck, Chris’s charisma is timeless and spellbinding. Director Colin Solal Cardo and choreographer Ryan Heffington fill each frame with vigor and enchantment, creating a world unto itself. Mason


FKA twigs, “Sad Day” (Dir. Hiro Murai)

Just as she applied her study of pole dancing in the video for last year’s “Cellophane,” FKA twigs flexes her swordplay abilities in “Sad Day.” Director Hiro Murai slices the song into multiple passages, letting the story of the video drive the progression of the music. Just in the first two minutes, we see twigs transition from moving like a collapsing marionette to entering full action-hero mode, fighting co-star Teake until they crash through a window. And that’s just where the video begins; moments later, the two are flying over city streets until, through some breathtaking visual effects, they defeat each other. This tense, shocking moment would not be out of place in a techno-horror film, capturing the power of the body to create both beauty and revulsion. Mason


HAIM, “I Know Alone” (Dir: Jake Schreier)

Music videos featuring the Haim sisters performing painstakingly synchronized choreography are a dime a dozen at this point, but the clip for “I Know Alone” is a profoundly relatable visual presentation of an especially prescient song. “Been a couple days since I’ve been out/Calling all my friends, but they won’t pick up,” Danielle Haim sings as she, Este, and Alana stand six feet apart on an empty basketball court, swiping on imaginary cellphones. Directed and choreographed remotely, the video is both a sign of the times and a work of understated ingenuity. Cinquemani


Lauv, “Modern Loneliness” (Dir: Jason Lester)

From snapping the perfect selfie, to obsessively monitoring Instagram likes, to commiserating with strangers on Twitter, no other video this year captured the rush, isolation, ennui, and potential for human connection of virtual life in 2020 better than singer-songwriter Lauv’s aptly titled “Modern Loneliness.” Cinquemani


Dua Lipa, “Physical” (Dir: CANADA)

For all her skills as a pop vocalist and songwriter, Dua Lipa exudes an aloofness on stage and on camera that could be mistaken for a lack of charisma. With her Future Nostalgia project, however, the U.K. singer has come into her own, no more so than in the colorful video for the album’s second single, “Physical.” Employing a blend of animation, special effects, and clever editing, Lipa literally floats on air as an army of monochromatic dancers swirl around her in a flurry of kinetic physicality. Camp


Kelly Lee Owens featuring John Cale, “Corner of My Sky” (Dir: Kasper Häggström)

The visual concept for Kelly Lee Owens’s “Corner of My Sky,” in which a man repeatedly places sliced bread in a toaster only for it to mysteriously disappear, is intriguing enough on its own, but it’s Welsh actor Michael Sheen’s performance—all grizzled consternation mixed with calm resolve in the face of the inexplicable—that makes this video so utterly captivating. Cinquemani

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